BHP Billiton’s gross fully franked dividend yield is now 15.6%

Credit: Lucas Walters

Although the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) has managed to get its 2016 campaign back on track today, the same cannot be said for BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP).

Instead of rising with the broader market, BHP Billiton’s shares have fallen another 0.8% today to $15.43, after hitting a low of just $15.28 earlier. That’s their lowest price in more than a decade, and shows just how little interest the market is showing in the miner right now.

To some investors, that might seem unfathomable. After all, at their current price, BHP’s shares are trading on a 10.9% fully franked dividend yield. When you take the tax credits into consideration, that equates to a grossed up 15.6% dividend yield!

Firstly, it must be noted that it is extremely rare that you get such a large, well-known company trading on such a lucrative dividend yield. Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) and Telstra Corporation Ltd (ASX: TLS), for instance, are currently trading on grossed up yields of ‘just’ 7.5% and 8.1%, respectively.

A 15.6% dividend yield

High dividend yields can be an incredibly attractive feature in an investment prospect, but when a dividend yield becomes too high, a word of caution is necessary…

An unjustifiably high dividend yield can often reflect the market’s lack of confidence that investors will actually receive that yield. In BHP’s case, crumbling commodity prices are having a negative impact on revenues and earnings, as well as cash flows from which dividends are paid from.

Although BHP has reaffirmed its commitment to continue increasing dividend payments to shareholders at every six-month interval, it has also said its top priority is to ensure it maintains its balance sheet strength and its credit rating. That may not be possible if it maintains its so-called “progressive dividend” policy.

Should you buy?

Some experts have suggested BHP could be forced to halve its payments to shareholders. Although that would still give the miner a 7.8% gross dividend yield at their current price, it is clear that investors are also concerned about the potential capital losses from an investment in the miner considering the headwinds facing the industry.

That is certainly a primary concern. Although BHP Billiton maintains low cost operations and reasonable diversification, it is by no means in a position to thrive in the current economic conditions. If commodity prices do continue to crash, further falls in BHP’s share price are certainly possible which could more than offset any dividend payments.

As such, investors may want to ignore the miner’s lure – for now, at least – and instead focus on other high-quality businesses that do not carry the same risks as those that BHP is burdened with.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ASXvalueinvest.

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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